Anti-war activist returns flag taken in 1970 protest

Peggy Andersen Associated Press Writer
Tuesday October 02, 2001


SEATTLE — A U.S. flag pulled from a Federal Building flagpole during a Vietnam War protest in 1970 is being returned to the government as the nation deals with this month’s devastating terrorist attacks. 

“It’s time,” said the man who’s kept the flag all these years. 

The man, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, turned the flag over recently to Seattle Times columnist Eric Lacitis. 

“And the flag should be flown. It represents the strength of this country — that we can move on from an era when so many people thought the government was wrong,” he said in a telephone interview. 

“The country has healed. We’ve pulled together.” In addition, “I think I’ve made a personal journey over the past 31 years.” 

The General Services Administration will take the flag back, but offers no guarantees it will fly again. 

“We may fly it some day, or we may display it in some arrangement. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it,” said Bill DuBray, the agency’s regional executive director. 

In his Monday column, Lacitis — who plans to deliver the still-bright 4- by 8-foot flag to the federal building in the next few days — suggests its musty smell will go away if it is flown again. 

It was pulled down May 5, 1970 — one day after National Guardsmen opened fire at the Kent State campus in Ohio and killed four students protesting the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. 

Galvanized by the tragedy, 5,000 people marched downtown from the University of Washington on Interstate 5, their sheer numbers overwhelming freeway traffic. 

Many wound up at the Federal Building, where — amid the speeches and chanting — one group pulled the Stars and Stripes from a flagpole out front. 

In the ensuing chaos, someone shoved the flag into the hands of the man who’s had it all these years. He tucked it under his shirt and walked away. 

“At the time, I felt it did not belong up there because we were fighting a war that was unjust,” said the man. 

Since that day, he embarked on his own journey, traveling the world, getting married, going to work and raising a family. 

The anonymity he insists on reflects concerns that all may not be forgiven, despite the years. 

“It’s just that some people still have difficulty with that part of the journey,” he said. “The story is not about me. It’s about returning something that has a better purpose than being in my basement.” 

Being a father is part of it, too. 

“You know that song, ’Teach Your Children Well?’ It’s a little hard if you have a flag that doesn’t belong to you,” he said, referring to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song. 

He’s thought about returning it many times over the years, and came close after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. 

Since then, every time he walked past the Federal Building, he would think, “How could a building like that come down? And then I’d remember I had a flag that belonged there.” 

When hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, he thought about his flag again after his wife displayed a flag at their home. 

“The events of September 11 put someone like me in a real quandary,” he said. 

“I still resent things that our government does. But at the same time, I cherish the right to resent.”